Betting Strategy: "A Great Bet for the Kentucky Derby"

Profile Picture: Kevin Kilroy

April 9th, 2022

Talking Trifectas and Keeneland’s April 9 card with Howard Kravets:

After my first season as a public handicapper, I looked at my betting account and realized one thing: I need help. Picking 349 races, I had 97 winners (28%) with an ROI of $2.08. But after subtracting my action bets--tell ya what I was a kid in a candy store the first month--I had lost 15% on my personal bets. Clearly, I need to spend more time structuring my wagers. I will use this column to learn from people I respect about how to better express my opinions. We’ll take a card and a pool, and discuss betting strategies.

My first guest is the podcast cosmonaut, Howard Kravets. A successful handicapper for over 25 years with a brilliant mind for math, Howard just reached show 127 of the HHH Racing Podcast, where he brings on horse racing and handicapping experts--think Andy Serling, Scott Hazelton, Marcus Hersh--gets to know them, and then dives into a big card. The proof of Howard’s handicapping acumen is in the pudding: finished in the Top 10% at the 2021 BCBC, Runner-Up in the 2022 Ultimate Betting Challenge ($78k payday), and he has qualified for the 2023 NHC. Clearly worth listening to--in this article and on Twitter @hkravets.

We discussed Keeneland’s Saturday card, specifically The Madison (G1) and The Commonwealth (G3), and we tackled the trifecta.

Kevin: Okay, box your opinions and be done, right? 

Howard: “No. When you box, you’re saying I have no opinions about which one of these horses is better. That’s not a winning strategy and that’s not the way to gamble.”

Instead, Howard offers up how to maximize your bet using a tri-key and back-wheeling.

“This is a much better alternative than boxing three, four, or five horses in a trifecta because it maximizes your value for less of a cost and gives you an opportunity to win nice money vertically.”

K: Alright, so how do you know when trifecta-key and back-wheeling is a good way to express your opinion?

H: “When I find a medium-priced horse that I feel is interesting, anywhere from 5-1 to 10-1, and I have a fairly strong opinion of who could win other than that. Find a horse you feel is interesting--it doesn’t have to be a bomb, but should not be a favorite. Instead of playing that horse in the win pool, key that horse in a trifecta on top, but also back-wheel that horse underneath in second and third as well. It doesn't cost a lot of money but the value goes up a ton.” 

K: You are a math whiz, can you put all that into a nice formula?

H: “Let’s say you like horse 1, 2, and 3 on the win end, and you also feel the 7 is interesting at a price. Then it would be three formulas: 7 with x with x. 1,2,3 with 7 with x. 1,2,3 with x with 7. X being the horses you feel could run well in this race but not win. Using this structure allows you to play more horses inexpensively.”

K: Do you use this bet often?

H: “Only when the situation calls for it. I mostly play multirace wagers. But, I’ll tell you what, this is a great bet for the Kentucky Derby.”

Here are Howard’s trifecta plays for April 9, Keeneland’s Race 7 The Madison (G1), keying in on #5 Bell's the One (7-2):

50-cent trifecta:

  • 5 with 2,3,4,6,7 with 2,3,4,6,7,8,9 = $15
  • 3,4,6 with 5 with 2,3,4,6,7,8,9 = $9
  • 3,4,6 with 2,3,4,6,7 with 5 = $9

K: Alright, so help me with my opinion in The Commonwealth. I feel that #5 Nashville (1-1) or #11 O Besos (5-1) could win this race. But I am nervous about #10 Prevalence (5-1) on the win end. I think that either #1 Manny Wah (15-1), #6 Surveillance (30-1) or #8 Endorsed (8-1) could run well in the money, but I don’t think they could win. I want to toss the 2, 4, 7 and 9, but I would be interested in using 1, 5, 6, 8, 10, and 11.

H: “Do you use chalk-splitters?”

K: No, what’s that?

H: “What you can do is a chalk-splitter trifecta: 5, 11 with 1,6,8,10 with 1,5,6,8,10,11. If the outcome is Nashville in first and O Besos in second, then that won’t pay. So you split the chalk with your underneath picks.”

K: So, chalk with interesting value horses with chalk and interesting value horses. Or chalk with  x with chalk, x?

H: “And then if you’re afraid it will become Nashville over O Besos, then back it up with an exacta. Play a big exacta Nashville over O Besos, maybe 5 times as much. And a small exacta with O Besos over Nashville. And it sounds like you think Prevalence could win, so maybe a back-up trifecta 10 with 5,11 with x.”

Here are my trifecta and exacta plays for April 9, Keeneland Race 5 The Commonwealth (G3):

50-cent trifecta:

  • 5,11 with 1,6,8,10 with 1,5,6,8,10,11 = $16
  • 10 with 5,11 with 1,6,8  = $3

$1 Exacta :

  • 5 with 11  (Big x5) = $5
  • 11 with 5  (Small x1) = $1